Three best coolers

Allen Foster

No matter how durable your hard cooler is, direct sunlight will break down the plastic and drastically shorten its lifespan. Always store your cooler out of direct sunlight.

Coolers are not a convenience; they are a necessity. It's not safe to eat a ham and cheese sandwich that's been in your backpack for three hours, and you can't cook the toxins out of spoiled ground beef. What's more, serving warm beer at a picnic could make you very unpopular! In short, if you enjoy picnicking, camping, or other outdoor activities, you need a cooler.

Considerations when choosing coolers

The question is, which cooler is right for you? In this guide, we take a look at the essentials so you can confidently purchase the cooler you need.

Cooler size and materials

There are two key items to consider when purchasing a cooler: the capacity of the cooler and the materials with which it was made.

Cooler capacity

Two people enjoying an afternoon picnic need a much smaller cooler than a family of five heading out for a weekend of camping. Manufacturers typically convey the capacity of a particular model in quarts or in the number of cans or bottles the cooler can hold. You will find some coolers that are more like lunch boxes; they hold only a few cans and perhaps a sandwich. On the other end of the spectrum, you will find commercial-grade coolers with a capacity of 100+ quarts. Most people will want something in between. With so many products on the market, the choice is yours.

Cooler materials

Coolers are made using a variety of materials, both hard and soft. If you're going backpacking, a lightweight polyester cooler is obviously a better choice than a heavy-duty chest. If you're going camping for an entire weekend, that lightweight polyester cooler probably wouldn't be of much use after the first day.

Other cooler features

In addition to capacity and the material with which it is made, what should you look for in a cooler? Not all coolers include all of the following features, but many good ones do.

A tightly locking latch to prevent spills

A drain to make ice/water removal quick and easy

Wheels to help transport heavier loads

A ribbed bottom to elevate food and keep it from getting soggy

Dividers and trays to help organize items within the cooler

How to get the most out of your cooler

A cooler is not a refrigerator. It doesn't make things colder; rather, it keeps items at the same temperature for a while. Knowing that, there are a few basic tips to follow to get the most out of your cooler.

First, start with a cool environment. Three to four hours before you place food in the cooler, put ice or ice packs in your cooler to lower the temperature.

Add cold items only. Any food or beverage that you place in the cooler should first be chilled or frozen.

Don't make the mistake of filling up your cooler with ice or ice packs and then adding the food on top. The most effective way to pack a cooler is with the ice or ice packs on top. The cold will sink down.

A note about salt

Adding salt to ice lowers the freezing/melting point of water. That is why salt melts ice. As a side effect, the melted water actually becomes colder than the ice. Because of this phenomenon, some people add salt to their ice when packing a cooler.

Coolers we recommend

Best of the best: YETI Tundra 65 Cooler 

Our take: This is the top-shelf option when it comes to coolers. It's a remarkably effective heavy-duty item that seems able to do the impossible.

What we like: It's large, designed to last, and keeps ice frozen for days at a time. Anything that is certified as bear-resistant has got to be tough.

What we dislike: The only downside is the high price. In the case of YETI, however, you get what you pay for, and that's a good thing.

Best bang for your buck: Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler 

Our take: Coleman's large, steel-belted cooler is a good option for picnics, tailgating, and other one-day activities.

What we like: If you're throwing a party or you just need an abundance of cold beverages, this model holds up to 85 cans. The no-tilt draining is a welcome feature, as are the rust-resistant screws and hinges. The six-year manufacturer warranty means Coleman has faith in this product.

What we dislike: Although it is not the priciest choice out there, it's still quite an investment.

Choice 3: Igloo 3-Piece Camping Combo 

Our take: This set of insulated pieces is ideal for light use, such as an afternoon picnic.

What we like: Versatility is this combo's greatest feature. The large-wheeled cooler allows you to pack everything you need for a trip to the beach. But sometimes, all you want to bring is a six-pack or a thermos, and in those cases, you can leave the big cooler at home. The fact that you get all three for one low price makes this an appealing choice.

What we dislike: This set is not designed for heavy-duty use. To get the most out of it, especially the larger piece, you need to be gentle. Also, not having a drain is a bit inconvenient.

Allen is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.


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